SXSW session on Reddit misses opportunity for thoughtful discussion

The South by Southwest panel, “It’s Reddit’s World; We Just Live in It,” set out to answer a tough question: "How is Reddit's power altering Web culture -- and should we celebrate it, or fear it?”

The either/or setup of the question was reflective of the divide between audience members and the panelists -- Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, Skepchick's Rebecca Watson, and Gawker's Adrain Chen, who wrote the controversial piece about Reddit troll Michael Brutsch. The panelists seemed more fearful of Reddit than audience members were, and at times they classified Reddit users as bigoted, racist and “hyperskeptical.”

There is an “overwhelming amount of sexism and racism and any other -ism you can name” on the site, Watson told the crowd.

The panelists did highlight some positive aspects of the Reddit community, such as Redditors' efforts to raise money for a bullied bus monitor. But their overall attitude was negative.

Participants told them as much on Twitter and during a Q&A session; they criticized the panelists for not taking a more balanced approach and for implying that Reddit is the only place online where racism and sexism live. The conversation was a reminder that there are those who embrace social media sites and those who view them with skepticism.

Skepticism can be healthy, unless it limits your ability to see a social network’s potential or causes you to generalize: "Reddit is a site for bigots and racists"; "Pinterest is for girly girls, not men"; "Twitter is a site where people announce what they had for lunch." These generalizations make it too easy to pigeonhole and dismiss social media sites, and they can ultimately stifle innovation.

When I interviewed The New York Times' C.J. Chivers for a story about Pinterest last year, he said: "Social media is a tool, like many others in our trade -- it can be as good and as useful as we force it to be.”

Here's a look at how the "Reddit Roast" played out:

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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